This was first published in March of 2013. On our countdown of Most Read Blog Posts, it’s number 4, in which we look at the idea of reading for pleasure.
The other day I was visiting a high school class. When I was taking questions, a ninth grader asked me how I go about putting symbolism and hidden meanings in my books. When I replied that I do not put hidden meanings and symbolism in my books, the boy’s response was, “But my teacher is always pointing out that stuff in the books we read, including yours.”
There are many things one can teach about a book: its context, language, style, construction, its historical moment, and so forth. The list is long, and productive. But to teach as if a text is written in code—a code only a teacher can decipher—is to tell students that they cannot understand what is being read. It makes readers feel dumb. It tells them they cannot understand literature. Most importantly, if one teaches literature in such a fashion, it robs a student of the joy of reading on his or her own terms and experience.
“You really don’t put symbols and hidden meanings in your books?” the boy asked incredulously.
“Nope,” I said. “I just want you to have the pleasure of reading them.”
“Wow,” he said, as other students nodded. “I wish you would tell that to my teacher.”
As it turned out, unbeknown to me, there was a literature teacher in the classroom. When the kids left, she introduced herself.
I said, “I hope you weren’t offended by my remarks.”
“Oh no,” she assured me, “I suppose one could make a case for reading for pleasure.”
I hope I did.